religion

How Buddhism differs from other religions

Lisa Jensen, Demand Media: For its followers, Buddhism is more than a religion; it is a way of life. While Buddhists take vows that are similar to those taken in other religions, including the vows not to kill, lie or steal, Buddhism does not prohibit its practitioners from following other religions. Additionally, it gives its followers autonomy in choosing the depth of practice. Buddhists may individually make certain commitments — like reciting a mantra a certain number of times or fulfilling the requests of a teacher — but they are not required; instead, they are self-imposed. Unlike many religions, a Buddhist nun or monk…

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Congratulations to Mazie Hirono: the first Buddhist elected to the US Senate

I just picked up on Google+ that Mazie Keiko Hirono has just become the first Buddhist elected to the US Senate.

Hirono is the U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, serving since 2007. She is a member of the Democratic Party, and is currently Senator-elect for Hawaii filling the seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka.

She will be the first female senator from Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, the first senator born in Japan, and the nation’s first Buddhist senator. That’s quite a collection of firsts.

She considers herself a non-practicing Buddhist, but when sworn in she said

“I don’t have a book [to swear upon] … But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty.”

Hirono was born in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, in 1947. In 1955, Hirono’s mother left an abusive marriage by emigrating to the United States with her children.

From 1980 to 1994, Hirono served in the Hawaii House of Representatives, passing more than 120 laws. She was honored by a coalition of leaseholders as Legislator of the Year in 1984.

In response to Virginia Republican Virgil Goode saying in print that he wanted to take action because the US was “vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within … Judeo-Christian principles,” she made a staunch defense of religious tolerance and separation of church and state:

“It’s about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress … What happened to separation of church and state and religious tolerance? I believe in those things.”

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Dalai Lama tells his Facebook friends that religion “is no longer adequate”

George Dvorsky, io9: This past Monday, people who have the Dalai Lama as a Facebook friend found this little gem in their newsfeed.

All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

The Dalai Lama’s advice sounds startling familiar — one that echos the sentiment put forth by outspoken …

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Is meditation a religion?

With 100,000 people in Washington this week for a major meditative Buddhist ceremony, a question arises: Is meditation a religion?

As On Faith explored last week, millions in the West, including many Kalachakra participants, have adapted Buddhist practices such as mindfulness, meditation or study of the Dalai Lama’s teachings, without taking on the full trappings of orthodox Tibetan Buddhism.

And meditation is booming in this country. The National Institutes of Health’s most recent data shows 9.4 percent of Americans meditated in the last year. That’s up from 7.6 percent five years earlier.

One of the region’s biggest meditation groups, the Insight Meditation…

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Why I call myself a Buddhist

Figure with weird bulging eyes, from a Tibetan thangka painting.

When I became a Mitra (friend) of the Triratna Buddhist Community earlier this year, I was surprised by the surprise of my non-Buddhist friends. They seemed aggrieved.

This was the general message:

‘We know you’ve benefited from meditation, and going on silent retreats. Although that’s not our idea of a holiday, we’re pleased for you. But why spoil everything by espousing a weird Eastern religion? Can’t you keep it secular? And if you have to be religious (though God knows why) can’t you stick to your own? OK, maybe not the Church. But what’s wrong with the Quakers? They sit in silence and meditate, don’t they?’

Fair enough questions. And I tried to answer them. I talked about the value of meditation, the common sense of the precepts. I talked about enjoying chanting, and finding ritual moving.

This was all true. But my explanation, even as I gave it, struck me as just so much hot air. After a lot of apologetic shrugs at dinner tables and in cafes, I realised that my decision to become a Mitra hadn’t been ‘thought through’ at all.

The commitments involved in becoming a Mitra – coming out as a Buddhist, promising to live by the precepts and choosing the Triratna Buddhist community as my spiritual home – didn’t feel like things I had ‘decided’ on.

Rather, all my experiences within the Triratna Buddhist Community had added up and reached a tipping point. I suddenly felt ‘at home’ with it all.

By experiences, I mean acts of kindness I’ve felt and witnessed. I mean the teachings of Order Members and the warmth or sometimes lacerating sharpness with which those teachings are delivered. I mean stuff I read in Buddhist books that speaks directly to personal problems I didn’t realise anyone else had. I mean the intimacy of joined voices reciting the seven-fold puja (one of the core rituals in the Triratna Buddhist Community) and the hypnotic beauty of the Heart Sutra, the poem at its core. I mean the pregnant sense of strangeness and mystery that often suffuses me when I sit in silence with myself or with others, at home, at Leeds Buddhist Centre, or on early morning meditations on retreat where you enter the shrine room in the dark, meditate while dawn gathers, and step out utterly and completely in the day.

I can no more justify or quantify this than I can tell you why somebody falls in love with one person – perhaps a person from a different background – and not another. My Mitra ceremony felt like a kind of marriage. Most marriages go through rocky patches, I know. I’m going through one even as I write this, not having meditated for a fortnight. But Buddhist practice gives me a home to come back to, a structure to see my struggles in the context of. That’s why I was happy to say ‘I do.’

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Religion to become extinct, says model of census data

A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.

The data reflect a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

Nonlinear dynamics is invoked to explain a wide range of physical phenomena in which a number of factors play a part.

One of the team, Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University, put forth a similar model in 2003 to put a numerical basis behind the decline of lesser-spoken world languages.

At its heart is the competition between speakers of different languages, and the “utility” of speaking one instead of another.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.

“It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility,” he told BBC News.

“For example in languages, there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru, and similarly there’s some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not.”

The team took census data stretching back as far as…

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a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

“In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%,” Dr Wiener said.

The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category.

They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them.

And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

“I think it’s a suggestive result,” Dr Wiener said.

“It’s interesting that a fairly simple model captures the data, and if those simple ideas are correct, it suggests where this might be going.

“Obviously much more complicated things are going on with any one individual, but maybe a lot of that averages out.”

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Ritual outside religion: the power of group meditation

Huffington Post: A few years back I discovered that meditation or contemplative practices done in a group setting are quite different than practices done alone. At the time, I was reading Steven Strogatz book ‘Sync’ about the science of synchronicity (the phenomenon of naturally arising sync in nature) and saw that the group experience was a syncing of individual transformative experiences. Read more here.

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Religion: with god on our side

Psychology Today: Psychologist Nick Epley explores how we attribute beliefs and attitudes to other minds, including those of deities. In ongoing research at the University of Chicago, he and his collaborators are finding that people’s own beliefs line up much more closely with the beliefs they attribute to their gods than to those they peg on other people. If you manipulate people’s views, their gods’ assigned views change, too. Read more here.

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